Innovation is essential for organizations to remain successful amidst strong competition. The fast pace of change in consumers' use of communications and technology in recent years is putting more pressure on companies to embrace customers' expectations and weave innovation through the fibers of their organizations. Success stories have been written about business leaders who've led change to become pioneers in their fields. Brands like Apple have succeeded and achieved business growth because they took calculated risks.
The savviest companies don't see innovation as just a means to an end, and instead consider it as a philosophy that has to be ingrained within the core of a company. That is the philosophy that Spanish bank la Caixa lives by. For the bank, innovation is an attitude to work. At la Caixa, innovation lies at the heart of the operating remit and is present within the whole organization. In fact, in 2011 la Caixa was named the "Most Innovative Bank" during the global banking innovation awards, solidifying the bank's philosophy that innovation is the best tool for growing efficiently and responding both to a changing environment and to customers.
But becoming an innovative company cannot happen without a major effort that includes everyone within the organization. Employees and even customers have an important role in driving the changes that matter. la Caixa is a firm believer that innovation can only develop successfully if it's based on feedback and learnings from three important groups-customers, employees, and industry experts.
Leveraging customer insights
Listening to customers is a key to success for organizations. When customers have the opportunities to pinpoint areas of improvement that the organization should address, companies can apply these shared insights to strategies that help improve their experience. la Caixa is a firm believer in such collaborative efforts. But the bank's leadership understands that while many customers are eager to share opinions that could improve their experience with the brands they do business with, it's up to these organizations to provide streamlined and straightforward ways for customers to share feedback and help improve the company's products and service.
This knowledge has prompted la Caixa to invest heavily in processes and mechanisms for gathering customer feedback and to make it easy for clients to share their comments through the various touchpoints. According to Benjam?uigdevall, head of the bank's electronic channels: "We focus our endeavors on creating the framework and tools for customers to collaborate with their ideas, opinions, and suggestions on what they need from our entity," For example, after making a purchase, the bank gives customers the option to answer a survey over multiple channels about the product and the process. This permanent valuation tool allows users to share their feedback on 25 products and services.
These surveys are leading to an average of 5,000 customer opinions every month allowing the bank's leadership to keep its finger on the pulse of its clients. The bank also is agile by quickly making the suggested changes or introducing new products that cater to customer needs.
The company also proactively reaches out to customers and involves them in brainstorming sessions. Feedback was essential when the company decided to overhaul its Internet banking home page to make it customer-focused. The organization called on its customers to help, involving hundreds in onsite focus groups and interviews to discuss design ideas, browsing habits, and ways to customize the homepage and make it user-friendly.
The company's latest endeavor is a new tool called Insp?nos (inspire us) within its online home banking channel. The tool was specifically built to provide customers with a destination to make suggestions about how to improve their banking experience. Puigdevall says this strategy allows customers to feel involved in the process of creating new products and services. Further, the bank gives other customers the opportunity to rate the ideas submitted by their peers, which are then analyzed by la Caixa executives to determine which can be acted on. The bank is receiving about 200 distinct ideas every month about the home banking channel, giving the boardroom insight into what customers want from the bank.
Tapping into employees' expertise
Winning ideas don't only come from the people at the top echelons of an organization. Staff members can have a revolutionary proposal that could give the organization a leading edge over its competitors. That's why it's essential for business leaders to establish processes that enable, and even encourage, staff members to share their thoughts. The company believes that employees, thanks to their experience and ongoing contact with customers, have considerable know-how that enriches the institution. Tapping into employee knowledge required la Caixa to develop in-house programs that encourage employees to share their ideas and suggestions. The company developed a web portal, dubbed "Imagine," where employees can share ideas which are then evaluated by a team of la Caixa experts the best ones are implemented every year. The Imagine platform has been developed as part of a group of collaborative tools to create a community for the sharing of information and knowledge. Making ideas visible across the board opens the discussion and creates additional suggestions.
Staff members at all levels and across different departments have proven to be a great resource, contributing upwards of 1,000 ideas and suggestions every month, allowing them to play an important role in the continuous improvements of products and services. Internal contests have also been organized to generate ideas around specific issues. In 2011, for example, la Caixa organized a contest to encourage innovative ideas for CaixaM?? Store, where customers can download smartphone apps for their financial needs.
While innovative ways to generate ideas work well for la Caixa, the bank believes that ideas are born through work and experimentation and therefore strives to create the right environment for employees to be creative. One example is the bank's CaixaM?? Laboratory that is used to test new services with the aim of improving the customer experience. Further, la Caixa set up a usability laboratory where employees can interact with customers, who are given a number of tests to determine the effectiveness of an idea. Eye tracking technology, for example, is used to determine what a customer is looking at, what colors and images grab their attention, and the direction their eyes follow as they carry out an action, like when their eyes gravitate toward the left or right side of a web page when they land on a website.
Learning from the best
Pride has no place in progressive companies. Instead, savvy organizations are not only willing to learn from industry experts, but they do so proactively. A guiding principle for la Caixa is to open the doors to external experts to share ideas and suggestions that can help the organization retain its innovative edge. A case in point is the FinApps Party, a 24-hour marathon for IT experts first organized in 2011 to develop mobile applications for financial services. The first endeavor attracted more than 100 participants who presented 40 projects. The winning app was a financial tool aimed at helping parents teach their children to save.
Following the success of the first FinApps Party, la Caixa decided to make this an annual event and the second party took place in Barcelona at the end of October. This time, the bank opened the opportunity to developers from around the globe, attracting experts from the United Kingdom, Kenya, Mexico, and Israel, among others. The winning application uses geo-location technology to locate retailers that use a la Caixa POS device. The prototype also encourages customers to share information about the venue on their social networks.
By gathering insights from these three resources, la Caixa is able to gain a wide view of what customers of all types expect of the bank as an organization. Acting on feedback from customers, employees, and industry experts allows the organization to remain agile in identifying new trends and stay ahead of the curve.